Woman sues city of McAlester, others after Taser incident
MCALESTER, Nov 28, 2012 (The Oklahoman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A woman is suing the city of McAlester after a city police officer used his Taser on her while she was handcuffed inside the Pittsburg County jail.
Nakina Williams, who filed the lawsuit in federal court last week, is seeking more than $2 million in punitive damages, court records show. The entire incident was captured on video surveillance cameras at the jail.
The city of McAlester, officer Sterling Taylor-Santino and Police Chief Jim Lyles are named as defendants in the suit, which alleges that Williams' civil rights were violated during the June 24 incident.
Taylor-Santino, 33, also has been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon in connection with the Taser incident. The officer, who remains on the police force, has pleaded not guilty in Pittsburg County District Court.
According to the lawsuit, the officer used excessive force as he dealt with the handcuffed Williams, who is less than 5 feet tall.
The suit also claims that Taylor-Santino, who initially was not aware the incident had been videotaped, lied on a report he filed in connection with the Taser episode.
"In his 'use of force report,' (Taylor-Santino) sought to cover up and/or conceal his actions ... by omitting that (Williams) was handcuffed when she was shot with the Taser," the suit alleges. "As a result he was found to have acted 'within policy' by police department officials."
Williams' lawsuit also draws attention to the officer's "violent work history."
"During his law enforcement career, (Taylor-Santino) has been involved with and instigated a disproportionate number of violent conflicts with suspects compared to other law enforcement officers in Pittsburg County," the suit alleges. "Some of these resulted in allegations of excessive force being made by the suspects."
When reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Taylor-Santino said he had no comment about the federal lawsuit filed by Williams or the June 24 incident, referring all questions to his attorney.
Taylor-Santino did confirm that he is still a member of the McAlester Police Department, and Lyles said last month the officer would remain on restricted duty pending the resolution of his criminal case.
Phone messages left with McAlester City Manager Pete Stasiak and Lyles were not returned Tuesday.
Jeremy Beaver, a local attorney representing Williams in her civil case, said the criminal charges filed against Taylor-Santino should bode well for his client's case in federal court.
"It just reaffirmed our position that she's a victim of a crime," Beaver said. "We felt that from the beginning, so when they filed the charges, yes, that just confirmed what we've thought all along."
The June 24 incident was captured on video and shows Taylor-Santino pressing a Taser against the woman's chest before discharging the weapon.
The video shows the officer stunning Williams at point-blank range, within 40 seconds of her entering the booking area.
Court records allege Williams, 27, was arrested after being drunk in public the night before and that she was being combative with officers before arriving at the Pittsburg County jail.
Williams has a lengthy history of trouble with the law in Pittsburg and Okmulgee counties, including arrests on possession of controlled substances, failure to provide adequate care for her children and public intoxication complaints.
After a brief argument -- during which time Williams allegedly spit on the officer -- the footage shows Taylor-Santino walking up to the woman and pressing the Taser against her left breast, nearly causing her to fall over.
A bolt of bluish-white light glows for an instant when the officer fires the Taser.
And while Williams never falls to the ground, her lawyer claims the more serious injuries occurred after the Taser was used. He said McAlester police officers violated the department's policy when they removed the Taser's barbs in the jail.
"They sat her down on a bench and yanked them out ... they were embedded in her upper-left breast, if you can imagine," Beaver said. "They were supposed to take her to the hospital to remove those."
Taylor-Santino was suspended two weeks without pay for using his Taser on Williams, police said.
Williams recently received a three-year suspended sentence for her actions in June, records show.
Taylor-Santino is due back in court Dec. 14 for a preliminary hearing conference.
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